EDITORIAL: It is very unfortunate that any and all attempts to break the ice with India, whether by the government or the establishment, are promptly undercut by other forces and powers within the country.
It is becoming clear that former army chief General Bajwa engineered a plan to get Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come to Pakistan for more than a week when PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) was in power, but the then prime minister Imran Khan walked out of the deal after first agreeing to it.
According to details making their way to the press, the Indian PM planned to visit a Hindu temple in Balochistan before making his way to Islamabad where the two prime ministers would have held hands, put Kashmir on freeze for 20 years and promised to work around their differences.
Imran Khan first appreciated the idea but was persuaded by the then foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to opt out because the opposition of the time was sure to grill him for “selling out” on the sensitive matter of Kashmir.
This is in stark contrast to what happened a few decades ago. Then former PM Nawaz Sharif invited his Indian counterpart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to Lahore, but a positive outcome of that trip in terms of improving relations between the two neighbours was sabotaged because the military, under General Pervez Musharraf, didn’t want to play along.
Now, when PM Shehbaz Sharif tried to leverage the good offices of the UAE (United Arab Emirates) president to broker talks with India, PTI went to town on it even before Abu Dhabi could raise the matter with New Delhi. And so we go round and round in circles, with little hope of any sort of progress in the foreseeable future.
The Pakistani side says, with some justification, that no talks are possible till the Indian government restores Kashmir’s special status, which the Modi administration is in no mood to do, and a persistent deadlock is assured.
Perhaps we could learn from the India-China example to broaden our vision regarding this matter. Those two countries are locked in a fierce rivalry for regional dominance, with India firmly in Washington’s camp as part of its Pivot to Asia policy to counter China’s rise, yet they don’t allow such issues to interfere with things like trade and commerce and cross-border investments that ultimately benefit both economies and their people.
Pakistan and India, on the other hand, have not been able to make any progress at all in seven and a half decades because of the former’s insistence that contentious matters, especially Kashmir, be settled first and the latter’s refusal to so much as entertain any such thoughts, much less allow foreign mediation.
They did, however, come close to settling the Sir Creek issue when President Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally sat across the table. Former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri, who led the Pakistani side in the negotiations, claimed that the two sides came “within a signature” of settling that particular dispute but Manmohan Singh could not come to Islamabad for the formalities in 2007 because by then the lawyers movement had erupted in Pakistan.
There is, however, a lot of sense in putting friction on hold for a few years and initiating progressive economic and financial interaction between Islamabad and Delhi. If we haven’t been able to settle Kashmir since partition, with practically no chance of anything happening any time soon, it’s not really a bad idea to make progress in other areas, preferably tying the two sides in long term economic projects that benefit both countries, before moving on to difficult things like Kashmir.
But none of that will be possible unless all stakeholders within Pakistan, especially constantly bickering political parties, are on the same page. It’s bad enough that India abuses its large market to blind the international community and get away with murder in Kashmir.
But our side, too, is often the part of the problem rather than the solution only because the need to score cheap political points is greater than improving the lot of ordinary people of the subcontinent. That must change and both India and Pakistan must find ways to engage progressively, with economic initiatives leading the way.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023